When I ran for student body President at Foothill College (where I’m giving this year’s commencement speech), they had each candidate record a video pitch. Even back then I was a pretty good speaker. But in a room with just a camera pointed at me, no audience to feed off of, I found myself rediculously self-concious and started to choke. Later I lost the campaign, to my roommate. I chalk it up as a learning experience.
Yesterday morning I found myself in a room with a camera pointing at me, but it was telepresence to Moscow, giving a talk for the Digital October program. I’ve used telepresence for a meeting before, and it seemed to work well for conversations. In this case, the feed back to me was a nice live stream. Panning the audience, zooming in on an expression of someone listening intently to live translation, backing out to see my big head on a screen.
While I have no idea if the talk was lost in translation (my worst experience was in Japan when I had to pause after each sentence for the person next to me to translate it), in retrospect I realize that telepresence shaped my talk. Its the first time I’ve given a speech and not cracked a single joke. I found myself focused on communication alone. The feed back to me helped me understand a little of how what I was saying was heard, but it wasn’t enough to really engage the audience.
Telepresence will never replace face-to-face, but will have a strong role as flying to Moscow will always be painful, at least in my lifetime. So the learning I’m going to try next time is to use the pictures and sounds I get from the feed back as inputs to my imagination while giving the talk. This is the same lesson I thought I had learned from 20 years ago, that when you can’t see your audience, imagine having a conversation with it.
Speaking tips aside, let me share my talk.
Recently I found myself trying to explain what I do to someone that doesn’t really use social software or have an interest in business. Before explaining the differences between the consumer web, professional use and enterprise use I had to find a metaphor to explain design choices for social spaces and what they imply. I fell back upon pattern languages from my early days with Socialtext.
So I described how you would build a building for social interaction, what motivations you can tap into and the role of social objects. All core concepts I credit other for, that together help tell a story, as you can see from the slides and hear from the recording.
I hope to find time to develop another version of this that includes more patterns and makes the story more engaging. Almost like an IA lecture combined with an entrepreneur’s pitch, translated for real people.